President Trump has been called many things and compared to many types of people during his two-plus years in office: An autocrat. A dictator. A mob boss. A con man.
Lately, however, the figure that most comes to mind—if only to me—is Otto West, the character played by Kevin Kline in A Fish Called Wanda. You remember Otto: The hapless, unscrupulous jewel thief who marches around London telling everyone he meets, “Don’t ever call me stupid!”
The joke, of course, is that Otto is, in fact, a complete and spectacular ignoramus—albeit an uncommonly devious and pretentious one—thereby rendering his incessant protests to the contrary both ironic and self-defeating, as is eventually spelled out in an exasperated monologue by Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis), who bellows, “To call you stupid would be an insult to stupid people.”
Like Otto, America’s 45th president invests an awful lot of stock in the notion that—despite all evidence to the contrary—he is an acutely intelligent individual, and he wants to make sure everyone in America knows it. Whether through his tweets about being “a very stable genius” or his challenges to an IQ-off against various congresspersons and, on occasion, his own cabinet secretaries, Trump seems abnormally preoccupied with asserting that he is the smartest person in the room, if not the country.
In doing this, Trump seems to imply that being exceptionally smart is part and parcel of his overall brand—along with being exceptionally rich and exceptionally sexually desirable—and, by implication, that were he to be shown to be not quite as sharp as he presents, his entire sense of self would dissolve into a billion tiny, stupid pieces.
Over time—as with our friend Otto—Trump’s profound insecurity about his own brainpower has produced one priceless moment of hilarity after another, the most recent—and arguably most illustrative—having emerged in the testimony of Michael Cohen, Trump’s estranged lawyer, before the House Oversight Committee on February 27.
In his opening statement, Cohen revealed (with documentation!) how in 2015 Trump’s legal team sent threatening letters to Fordham, the University of Pennsylvania and the College Board, forbidding them from disclosing Trump’s grades and SAT scores to the public—something that institutions of higher learning are legally prohibited from doing without the student’s permission.
It has been duly noted that this unnecessarily proactive attempt to conceal Trump’s grades occurred not so long after the very same Donald Trump loudly demanded the release of then-President Barack Obama’s own college transcripts—a hypocrisy so transparent we need not spell it out here.
The obvious question that arises, of course, is: How damning could Trump’s transcripts possibly be that he would enlist a team of lawyers to ensure they never see the light of day?
The obvious (if elliptical) answer is that vain men tend not to withhold information that makes them look good. As with his tax returns, Trump’s decision to treat his school records as a top-level state secret leads us to the inescapable conclusion that he must have something rather embarrassing to hide.
What should most concern us about this particular deception—beyond the deception itself, that is—is why Trump is so sensitive about IQ and test scores in the first place.
I don’t know about you, but I haven’t thought about my college GPA more than a handful of times since I graduated nine years ago. What’s more, while I attended a perfectly respectable university and enjoyed most of my time there, I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned its name except when asked—nor do I make a habit of announcing how clever and educated I supposedly am in order to make myself feel superior to the other people in the room.
Isn’t that something only a sociopath would do?
And yet here we are, digesting the details of a massive fraud perpetrated by excessively wealthy parents to shoehorn their deadbeat kids into über-selective colleges and universities they never would’ve gotten into on their own. Because as far as those parents are concerned, life is meaningless unless it’s spent in the rarified company of America’s academic elite—whether one belongs there or not.
Donald Trump is a product of this nauseating mindset, and we have all been living with the consequences ever since.
Christopher Hitchens used to say that what annoyed him about certain religious folk was their rather aggressive tendency to proselytize. It wasn’t enough that they believed in the gospel; you needed to believe in it, too.
Such is Donald Trump’s relationship with his “very, very big brain”: He can’t be content with his alleged smartness until every last person in America is made aware of the good news.
You can call him insecure. You can call him delusional. But whatever you do, don’t call him stupid.